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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67562
Recording details: December 2006
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Hayes
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: August 2007
Total duration: 29 minutes 26 seconds

'Jonathan Plowright shines a powerful light on Paderewski … you have a pianist clearly in love with every bar of Paderewski's romantic rhetoric and it would be hard to imagine playing of greater sympathy or a more intimidating visceral strength and cogency. A pianist who excels in music's darker undercurrents and declamations, he clears every daunting hurdle with awe-inspiring ease, making a formidable case for one of music's neglected byways. Finely presented and recorded, this is a valuable and surprising issue' (Gramophone)

'A distinctive and distinguished melodic voice shines through … everywhere there is always a strong sense of forward momentum … in Jonathan Plowright these works have a near-ideal interpreter. Not only does he negotiate Paderewski's dizzying virtuoso demands with evident ease, but also his ability to bring an almost string-like tone to the more lyrical passages constantly fascinates in this excellent recording' (BBC Music Magazine)

'It's all dense music, highly wrought, and Jonathan Plowright plays it quite superbly, with an enviable range of keyboard colour' (The Guardian)

'All three works provide the listener with an incredible musical journey; a kaleidoscope of pianistic ideas with fleeting echoes of Rachmaninov, Brahms, Debussy, and even elements of earlier music with its elegance and trills, yet in no way derivative. The playing is world-class; understated virtuosity at its best. Plowright easily integrates all the difficult elements—and Paderewski described the Op 23 Variations as his best and most difficult work—into the musical lines as if they don’t exist' (Classic FM Magazine)

'The music is by turns lyrical, tender, propulsive and bizarre … Plowright, who has made lesser-known composers a specialty … performs with conviction and panache. He gives Paderewski his due, revealing the seriousness of purpose, the lighthearted charm and a penchant for self-indulgence' (San Francisco Chronicle)

'A pianist who clearly believes in the music, who has studied it with appreciation and insight. Jonathan Plowright fits the bill admirably—and he has the technical wherewithal to do it justice. He unfolds the extended Fugue of Opus 23 imperiously; here the astringency of Paderewski’s conception perfectly caps what has gone before. This is fascinating music impressively performed, recorded and annotated—and cannot be recommended too highly' (ClassicalSource.com)

'Jonathan Plowright semble avoir parfaitement saisi que l'esprit qui y souffle est celui de la musique et non du simple piano. Il leur donne une unité, une densité qui méritent l'admiration, soulignant l'envergure et l'humilité d'un compositeur à redécouvrir vraiment' (Diapason, France)

Variations and Fugue on an original theme in E flat minor, Op 23
composer
1885-1903

Theme: Maestoso  [1'02]
Variation I  [0'57]
Variation II  [0'58]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
If Op 11 is very much a student work, generally light in tone, the Variations and Fugue on an original theme in E flat minor Op 23 is a different matter altogether. Yet this too had its origins in Paderewski’s early years: ‘The second work [of 1903] was the completion of my third set of Variations, which I had begun while still in Strasbourg [in 1885–6]. I had retained only a few of the variations from that period, so I wrote a series of new ones ending with the fugue. This work is my best piano composition, I think. It is extremely difficult and perhaps too long, but it contains quite a few things which were then almost a revelation in their character and novelty.’

Evidently, E flat minor was in the Swiss air in 1903, because both Op 23 and the Op 21 Piano Sonata are in this key. But whereas the Sonata spends most of its time assiduously avoiding the home tonality, the variations, by their very nature, are rooted in it. Yet the stalking pesante theme in bare octaves also avoids absolute confirmation of E flat minor until its final bars. It is also not in the traditionally balanced four four-bar phrases but in three eight-bar phrases, creating an ABA thematic structure for the ensuing twenty variations. These appear singly (II) or in groups (III–V), some staying close to the theme, others moving further afield. And sometimes different elements cut across such categorization (for example, the move to sharp keys in the central portions of V and VI). The ‘antique’ strain is evident in the mordents and other ornamentation of II, VII–VIII and XVII, but this is more than offset by what Paderewski seems to be identifying in his words ‘revelation’ and ‘novelty’.

Variation VI is a case in point. Its main motif is a halting, fanfare-like rhythm in the bass register, but the central portion, through its harmony and sonorous chording, seems to reach out to Debussy. The French dimension returns in VIII, whose delicate decorations parallel, even perhaps anticipate, Ravel’s evocation of the eighteenth century. Sometimes the groupings are formed partly through similarity (the move to the tonic major for X and XI) and partly through contrast (X is a grandiose, bell-like 3/4, XI is arguably Paderewski’s wittiest example of metrical play, faery-like in its sprightliness). Variations XII–XIII share the same newly developed motif, while XII and XIV return again to the world of the Brahmsian diaspora and the music of MacDowell. Variation XV—Andantino (con tenerezza)—is the strangest. It is in the key of F sharp, though the tonality is disguised by its characteristic crushed seconds which increasingly lend an atonal feel to the harmony. XVI brings the music back to more familiar territory, although the notation of the trills, involving both hands, is an interesting feature. As the set approaches the fugue, XIX revels in Brahmsian chunkiness and, as in the Piano Sonata, the fugue itself is prefaced, in Variation XX, by an initial exploration of its main theme. The fugue is a more sophisticated example of the genre than that in either of the other works on this disc—there is some extensive stretto and augmentation in the concluding pages—and the work ends with a resounding celebration of its home key.

from notes by Adrian Thomas © 2007

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